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Why we love basmati rice

To celebrate National Rice Week, our own Lulu Grimes gives us the lowdown on basmati rice, why it's such a winner and some great recipes to use it in.

A bowl of just cooked basmati rice with a large knob of good butter melting into it and plenty of salt and pepper on top is my idea of the perfect meal. Rice, specifically basmati rice, is not a side dish in my opinion; it is the point of the meal, a mound of perfectly separate but fluffy grains that needs little adornment (though the addition of a fried egg and some chill sauce is marvelous). I stress that it must be basmati, any old long grain will not do, nor Jasmine or paella rice and risotto leaves me cold.

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My love is for the fragrant, elegant grains of basmati and I could happily eat it every day. I can smell it cooking the minute I walk into a house or past the open door of a kitchen where there’s a pan of it on the stove and it always stops me in my tracks, a mixture of baguette, pop corn and sun hot wood with the faintest edge of vanilla (without the sweetness) produced by an aroma compound called 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline that is also found in pandan (kewra or screwpine) leaves. This compound is found in all rice but in nothing like the concentration it occurs in basmati.

Basmati means fragrant in Sanskrit and it is grown exclusively in India and Pakistan, there are many different varieties and some are superior to others, Dehradun in India produces some of the best. As with fine wines and rare spices basmati is sometimes faked, in order to counteract a certificate of purity protects true basmati, if you are buying in the UK Tilda is a brand you can trust. Aged basmati is more refined in flavor and texture, the older the rice is the less moisture it contains and the better it cooks.

How you cook your basmati is up to you, I like to soak mine first for up to an hour, this shortens the cooking time and makes the closed pan method a less exact science as it needs less water and a shorter cooking time. Generally I add about 2cm water above the level of the rice, stick a glass lid on my pan and bring it to a fast boil for a couple of minutes, then I turn the heat down and keep an eye on the rice until it is cooked, about 6 or 7 minutes. I leave it to sit for 5-10 minutes before touching it. The rice you have may need a longer or shorter cooking time and more or less water but it is fairly forgiving to cook.

I like it best with cashews fried in butter with plenty of black pepper and peas stirred through it, with a ladle of dhal spooned over, a fried egg forked into it and topped with fried-to-burnt onions or crisp okra or made into a biryani with chunks of lamb. Or you could try one of our best ever basmati rice recipes.


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